A/N: I hope no one is disappointed that this vignette is less comical than the others, but it's always been my intention with this story to cover the time between Hiei and Kurama's first meet and their introduction to the series, and they're not exactly on good terms when they're introduced to the series. I may pick this up in another story later, but for now, this is the last vignette. I hope you all enjoyed them!

Scene Six: Deception

"Hiei... I'm curious." Kurama's voice was gentle, and sorrowful; these things he could not help, but he managed to keep it steady. "Do you really believe I want to do this? Or do you not care whether I want to or not?"

Hiei looked impatient, and ever so slightly disconcerted. "I thought you wanted that mirror."

Kurama didn't answer right away. Yes... it might be the only way. Who would have guessed that Hiei, of all people, would be the one to push me into this choice? He can't know what he's doing; he doesn't know what it is. "Perhaps," he allowed.

Hiei's impatience increased. "Well, perhaps we'll go and get it, then. Perhaps we'll follow up on the opportunity of King Enma being away. If we feel like it."

Again, Kurama didn't answer right away. The situation had unexpectedly become precarious. There was so much he suddenly didn't dare show to Hiei; and there was so much he could never hide from him, no matter how hard he tried. "Perhaps now is not the right time," he finally offered, looking away from him.

"Don't think you can do it?"

Kurama whirled back to face him, not caring that he was rising to the bait or that his anger was written all over his face; anger was good, it shielded his other emotions from Hiei's sight. "You have gotten soft in human world," Hiei continued, nonchalant, as though commenting on the weather; but every word was designed to pique. "Maybe you can't break into a Reikai vault anymore. I can recruit backup if you need it."

Kurama crossed his arms and replied cooly. "You already have. Maybe you're the one who doesn't trust yourself to do this."

"You said you needed someone to cover your back," Hiei objected.

"I need you to cover my back, Hiei!" Too much; don't let too much anger give you away. But that was the crux of the matter; he needed Hiei to be covering for him, not forcing him towards a choice he wasn't ready to make. "I don't need some stranger I don't trust standing behind me. I need you to do it alone." Maybe then... maybe I could explain to Hiei, if it was only him...

"Even I can't be in two places at once. It's safer with three. Gouki doesn't have the brains to betray anyone. I told him he could take the orb; we'll eliminate him after he's used it to gorge himself."

"Interesting. You also told me I could have the mirror. Planning to kill me afterwards as well?"

"Of course," Hiei replied blandly. "That's why I told you I was planning on killing Gouki, to give that mind of yours something to think about. Just to be sure you're ready for it when I try to kill you."

"You are exactly as arrogant as you accuse me of being, you know that? You could be telling the plain truth and I wouldn't know it."

"I don't have time for this game," Hiei said, finally sounding truly angry instead of merely exasperated. "I know you're pissed off at everyone and everything in the universe, I understand why, it's too bad that she's dying, but it's nothing to do with me. I'm sick of dealing with your anger, I haven't earned it."

You most certainly have. "I apologize, Hiei. But I can't turn it on and off. You picked a wretched time to do this."

"I didn't pick a time. The opportunity presented itself--the old man's out of town, the baby doesn't know how to handle things yet, no one knows you're alive and I wouldn't be surprised if security's lightened since your 'death.' I defy you to find the flaw in that."

"The flaw is that I don't know this piece of trash you've pulled out of your past like some sort of security blanket, because you don't trust yourself to do the job."

Both of them were surprised, at the intensity with which Kurama suddenly went for the throat. It was in stark contrast to how it had always been between them--a game, teasing, certain lines not crossed. Now the lines were crossed and it was not a game and Hiei looked ready to kill him. And yet even knowing all this, Kurama did not step back or shield himself in any way, because he knew that Hiei would not

actually strike. "I know you can do it, Hiei," Kurama said, steadily, a little concillatory. "You, alone. We work better that way."

Hiei took a moment longer to get a handle on himself before speaking. "We work better when we're alive, too. Have you even been in Reikai?"

"Several times."

"Then you know what we're talking about here. You know how many guards there are. They may be stupid, but they're there. It will run smoother with three, and you and I won't even have to get our hands dirty. I can't do anything about your not knowing him, you're just going to have to trust me."

"That's the point, Hiei. I do trust you, and that condition is rare. I certainly don't trust him."

"You think I'd bring someone into this that I expected to stab you in the back?"

"No one ever expects to be stabbed in the back."

Hiei couldn't argue with that. So he crossed his arms defensively, and changed the subject. Or rather, he didn't change the subject, but dove at the heart of the one they were already on, with the casual piercing movement that had become trademark between them. "Would you mind telling me why you're actually pissed instead of going round for round with me over Gouki?"

"Your reasoning?"

"If he had irritated you so much he'd be dead. Your reasoning?"

"You know."

"This isn't just about her. You're angry at me, specifically, and it's not just the timing."

Their eyes met. It was a mistake, to allow it; because when their eyes met, Kurama's deception was not quite flawless, and Hiei suddenly realized the fox was hiding something. Kurama could see it, in the way Hiei's expression changed; still angry, but much colder and calmer, intent and suddenly probing. Hunting.

"You think you're using me," Kurama said softly.

Hiei's face went virtually blank. It did that frequently, though, so to Kurama the tiny flickers of expression that did cross it were easily readable, expansive even--shock, anger, bewilderment. "Using you?" he echoed flatly.

There was no unsaying it. "This plan of yours. You expect me to follow you. That's what angers me."

"I've followed you to hell and back," Hiei objected hotly, immediately. "And you've followed me there too and you've never objected."

"Back when we were partners, Hiei. But this isn't partnership. This is you showing off, this is you trying to be a mastermind and me a key player in your game. Not caring whether I want to be, and not listening to a word I say."

"You want to know how well I'm listening? So well that I know you've never said the word 'no.' And if you truly didn't want to do this, you wouldn't fight and fuss at me like this. You would just say no."

That stung--stung so deeply that Kurama knew it must be partly true. I don't want to; but I do. I want to help you, I want the Mirror, I want human world to stay in one piece, I want things the way they were before you made this plan. And I want not to make this choice.

Kurama spoke, flatly. "Perhaps."

Hiei didn't reply for a moment. His eyes were still sharp and hunting, his face grave, showing that he knew something serious was happening. And yet his posture was still open, no defensive changes in it, and it was almost painful to Kurama to see. To know that Hiei had not yet even begun the thought process that Kurama was already deep into: Was I mistaken? In him, in this? Was it an error to get so close, to trust so much--no, I wasn't mistaken. It was right the way it was before; this, now, is what's wrong. But my knowing that changes nothing. If I can't make him see it--and I can't--then I have to watch out... I have to cut my losses.

Carefully, Kurama turned to his desk and took the rose out of its vase. One thing was certain, he would definitely need to have it in his hair from now on. Whichever way this turned out, he would be hunted. He twirled the rose slowly, not caring if he looked too contemplative--he had only reached for the rose in the first place so he would have an excuse to turn his face away from Hiei. So he could hide his expression while he asked his next question, without Hiei realizing that he needed to hide it. "If I ask you to," Kurama said quietly, "will you stop this?"

The silence that followed was excruciating, but Kurama allowed it. He didn't even glance up to observe Hiei deciding on an answer; he owed him that much.

"You don't have to do it," Hiei finally replied. Which was not the same thing as yes.

Kurama nearly snapped the stem of the rose in half. But in this case, it wouldn't have been a gesture of aggravation--just one of finality. He carefully set it back down. "No. I'll do it."

And that was that. He smoothed his expression out and turned to face Hiei again. "Well, then, shouldn't I meet this Gouki? Where is he, anyway?"

Hiei looked mistrustful of Kurama's sudden return to complacency. "He's slumming it somewhere," Hiei replied bluntly. "I'll summon him."

"Not here, please. I'll meet you in the woods later."

"Will you?"

Hiei's expression was intent, and he didn't say anything else after that expression of uncertainty; he just looked at Kurama, drawing him forward without words, inviting him to fill the silence. This is not good. He knows me too well.

Kurama allowed himself to move without thinking; instinct alone could carry him through this safely. He let Hiei's gaze draw him forward, as it was meant to, until he was standing right in front of him; then his hand moved, of its own volition, removing a strand of hair that had fallen in Hiei's eyes and tucking it back above the wards. A gesture at once familiar, patronizing, paternal. Comforting. "Yes. I will."

For a moment nothing happened--a frozen tableau, wordless, uncertain. Then Hiei nodded, and Kurama's hand dropped. Hiei reached for his cloak. "I'll find him, then. We'll meet you at midnight."

"I'll be waiting."

Hiei glanced back at him sharply--almost patently uneasy, trying to pin something down and unable to. Though Hiei had never looked at him like that before, Kurama was used to the expression in others. It was, after all, his skill; he was not the strongest demon out there, he never had been, but he could weave a web of subtleties and half-truths so deep it would take a friend a week to wade through them, and an enemy longer. Hiei wouldn't be able to figure out Kurama's intentions, where his loyalties lay--not, at least, until it didn't matter anymore.

Hiei's face said it all--that he didn't understand, didn't know, suddenly wasn't certain. But Hiei was young and strong and confident, and he would act like what he wanted was true. Even though he would keep a wary eye out, he would still proceed as though nothing was wrong.

Kurama realized, however, that he must have come to mean something to Hiei over the past few months--not what he knew, or what he could do, but he himself. Because Hiei went further than he needed to, dropped his guard when it wasn't strictly necessary. Because he suddenly turned back, already halfway out the window, and put a hand on Kurama's shoulder. Reassuring, subdued and intent. "We'll get through this, Kurama."

And then he was gone--the moment broken quickly, like they always were when Hiei felt vulnerable. Out the window and already halfway to the woods, darting quickly, in pursuit of the plan. "No, Hiei," Kurama said just as quietly, to the empty room. "We won't."

He turned away, already deeply immersed in his own plans, and absently closed the window behind him.